Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XXVIII.—Homer’s obligations to the sacred writers.

And not only Plato, but Homer also, having received similar enlightenment in Egypt, said that Tityus was in like manner punished. For Ulysses speaks thus to Alcinous when he is recounting his divination by the shades of the dead: 2565

“There Tityus, large and long, in fetters bound,
O’erspread nine acres of infernal ground;
Two ravenous vultures, furious for their food,
Scream o’er the fiend, and riot in his blood,
Incessant gore the liver in his breast,
Th’ immortal liver grows, and gives th’ immortal feast.”

p. 285 For it is plain that it is not the soul, but the body, which has a liver. And in the same manner he has described both Sisyphus and Tantalus as enduring punishment with the body. And that Homer had been in Egypt, and introduced into his own poem much of what he there learnt, Diodorus, the most esteemed of historians, plainly enough teaches us. For he said that when he was in Egypt he had learnt that Helen, having received from Theon’s wife, Polydamna, a drug, “lulling all sorrow and melancholy, and causing forgetfulness of all ills,” 2566 brought it to Sparta. And Homer said that by making use of that drug Helen put an end to the lamentation of Menelaus, caused by the presence of Telemachus. And he also called Venus “golden,” from what he had seen in Egypt. For he had seen the temple which in Egypt is called “the temple of golden Venus,” and the plain which is named “the plain of golden Venus.” And why do I now make mention of this? To show that the poet transferred to his own poem much of what is contained in the divine writings of the prophets. And first he transferred what Moses had related as the beginning of the creation of the world. For Moses wrote thus: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” 2567 then the sun, and the moon, and the stars. For having learned this in Egypt, and having been much taken with what Moses had written in the Genesis of the world, he fabled that Vulcan had made in the shield of Achilles a kind of representation of the creation of the world. For he wrote thus: 2568

“There he described the earth, the heaven, the sea,
The sun that rests not, and the moon full-orb’d;
There also, all the stars which round about,
As with a radiant frontlet, bind the skies.”

And he contrived also that the garden of Alcinous should preserve the likeness of Paradise, and through this likeness he represented it as ever-blooming and full of all fruits. For thus he wrote: 2569

“Tall thriving trees confess’d the fruitful mould;
The reddening apple ripens here to gold.
Here the blue fig with luscious juice o’erflows,
With deeper red the full pomegranate glows;
The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,
And verdant olives flourish round the year.
The balmy spirit of the western gale
Eternal breathes on fruits, untaught to fail;
Each dropping pear a following pear supplies,
On apples, figs on figs arise.
The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,
The buds to harden, and the fruits to grow.
Here order’d vines in equal ranks appear,
With all th’ united labours of the year.
Some to unload the fertile branches run,
Some dry the blackening clusters in the sun,
Others to tread the liquid harvest join.
The groaning presses foam with floods of wine.
Here are the vines in early flower descry’d
Here grapes discoloured on the sunny side,
And there in autumn’s richest purple dy’d.”

Do not these words present a manifest and clear imitation of what the first prophet Moses said about Paradise? And if any one wish to know something of the building of the tower by which the men of that day fancied they would obtain access to heaven, he will find a sufficiently exact allegorical imitation of this in what the poet has ascribed to Otus and Ephialtes. For of them he wrote thus: 2570

“Proud of their strength, and more than mortal size,
The gods they challenge, and affect the skies.
Heav’d on Olympus tottering Ossa stood;
On Ossa, Pelion nods with all his wood.”

And the same holds good regarding the enemy of mankind who was cast out of heaven, whom the Sacred Scriptures call the Devil, 2571 a name which he obtained from his first devilry against man; and if any one would attentively consider the matter, he would find that the poet, though he certainly never mentions the name of “the devil,” yet gives him a name from his wickedest action. For the poet, calling him Ate, 2572 says that he was hurled from heaven by their god, just as if he had a distinct remembrance of the expressions which Isaiah the prophet had uttered regarding him. He wrote thus in his own poem: 2573

“And, seizing by her glossy locks
The goddess Ate, in his wrath he swore
That never to the starry skies again,
And the Olympian heights, he would permit
The universal mischief to return.
Then, whirling her around, he cast her down
To earth. She, mingling with all works of men,
Caused many a pang to Jove.”



Odyssey, xi, 576 (Pope’s translation, line 709).


Odyssey, iv. 221; [Milton’s Comus, line 675].


Gen. i. 1.


Iliad, xviii. 483.


Odyssey, vii. 114 (Pope’s translation, line 146.).


Odyssey, xi. 312 (Pope’s translation, line 385).


The false accuser; one who does injury by slanderous accusations.


᾽Ατη, the goddess of mischief, from whom spring all rash, blind deeds and their results.


Iliad, xix. 126.

Next: Chapter XXIX.—Origin of Plato’s...